Bookshelf (Starburst Reviews) Bookshelf compiled by David Howe
• part of Starburst's monthly Reviews section
selected from Starburst #264

Selected this month:
Frederik Pohl’s classic Red Planet novel Man Plus, and an accomplished collection from M John Harrison, Travel Arrangements

In this issue's Bookshelf: David Howe speaks to M John Harrison about Travel Arrangements; best seller charts, July's new releases rounded-up, and more reviews!
Plus: an overview of the Gollancz Millennium Fantasy Masterworks series

Read Alan Jones' movie reviews for
• Chicken Run
• Bats
• The Road to El Dorado
• Teaching Mrs Tingle
and Stuart Little, when you
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In every issue – a major Reviews section of the latest sci-fi and fantasy media, including:

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MAN PLUS by Frederik Pohl
Published by Millennium • 215 pp, paperback

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‘A speculative masterwork that tackles the colonization of Mars - and the physical transformation of a man into a cyborg.’

While a lot of the SF books that have been written about Mars (especially Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic ‘colours’ trilogy) are concerned with staggeringly immense terraforming projects to change the Red Planet’s whole atmosphere and climate, this classic novel, which first appeared back in 1976, takes an entirely different and perhaps more practical approach. Instead of trying to change another world to better suit mankind, why not simply alter a man so he can live there?

Superbly crafted, Man Plus is a speculative masterwork that tackles two familiar yet still important subjects – the colonization of Mars, and the physical transformation of a man into a cyborg. Here, Frederik Pohl eschews decades of genre clichés about exploring alien planets, and the creation of clunky humanoid robots, to construct one of the most powerfully written hard-SF tales ever.

What makes this book so great is this: when the main character, retired American air force colonel Roger Torraway, undergoes a major programme of surgical modifications to his entire body (which involves changes to his physical senses, and progressive loss of flesh in the process, including his sexuality), he quite unexpectedly regains his humanity.

Even before cold-blooded medical science and cybernetic engineering turns the man into a terrifying monster (a bug-eyed, bat-winged computer which can feed on radiation!), the impact on Torraway’s hardened psyche of mortal fears ensures that only by coming to terms with his past will he survive the ordeals of this starkly imagined future.

If you liked the appealing human drama elements in the action packed RoboCop, note that this covers much of the same ground – but with considerably more depth. In my view Man Plus is the author’s very best work.

Starburst rating: 10 / 10
Tony Lee

Published by Gollancz • 262pp, trade paperback

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'Harrison’s lyrical writing style is often poignant, always imaginative, occasionally savage in tone...'

As you may well anticipate from the title of this collection of short stories, there are lots of train journeys and hours of motorway drive time, with all the sights, sounds and smells of trips about town and country strikingly described here.

M John Harrison’s fiction isn’t overly concerned with plot so much as it is character and literary merit. Unlike some of his peers, though, this is one accomplished author who doesn’t avoid our favourite genres as if he might catch something nasty just from being associated with SF and Fantasy.

There are quietly unassuming ghost stories here, such as Small Heirlooms and Empty, in which the characters’ response to a mystery is equally if not more important than any easily definable supernatural element. A common thread among the stories is fate. The Gift is about a book which brings two lost souls together, the previously unpublished and very curious The Horse Of Iron And How We Can Know It features a reading of tarot cards (at least, I think that’s what it is!).

Harrison’s lyrical writing style is often poignant, always imaginative, occasionally savage in tone, and sometimes a bit impenetrable (as in this last), but thankfully never pretentious. Some tales are linked to other earlier and later books. Anima, an expertly crafted character study, became part of Harrison’s novel Signs of Life (reviewed in Starburst #229), while Seven Guesses Of The Heart revisits the magical land explored in Harrison’s acclaimed The Course of the Heart.

Best of this batch of 14 is undoubtedly Suicide Coast. Ostensibly a cautionary tale of an antisocial future where VR games ruin just as many lives as they enrich, it boasts three superbly drawn characters and enough closely observed urban detail for a novel.

Starburst rating: 9 / 10
Tony Lee

Reviews © Visual Imagination 2000. Not for reproduction